KARACHI, Sept 14: Rasheed Baloch, a landowner living in the city’s suburbs, is quite satisfied with ostrich farming he took up 10 months ago. He has already earned a profit of Rs1.2 million after beginning his business with an investment of Rs2m.
“I had bought about 160 ostriches in two phases and I have sold more than 50 birds so far at prices ranging from Rs25,000 to Rs150,000 apiece depending upon their sizes. Right now, I have 64 birds. Not a single animal has fallen sick,” he proudly tells Dawn at his farm situated in Shoban Garden, an area named after his late father in Malir.
The first consignment Rasheed bought was of 80 ostrich chicks (over two months old) for which he paid from Rs15,000 to Rs20,000, depending on their sizes. As land with a boundary wall was already available to him, he only had to invest in labour and animal feed.
“We are advised not to buy newborn chicks as they carry a high risk of mortality. I have found ostrich farming quite viable as it carries minimum risk of disease as compared to poultry and cattle. Sixty per cent of their feed comprises green fodder that I don’t have to buy as I grow it here,” he says.
When asked what motivated him to start a new business, he said one of his friends in the same business had advised him to do so after seeing his desire to venture into a business.
Zeeshan Channa is another entrepreneur who has taken up ostrich farming. Working as a manager with a private organisation, Zeeshan got interested in the new business after visiting a livestock exhibition held in Karachi last year. The birds are being raised at a six-acre farm in Meerabad, a town in Tando Allahyar district.
“I got 12 chicks, each about three months’ age a year ago. I am happy with the way they are growing. I have lost only one bird so far and that, too, during transportation,” he said.
According to Zeeshan, he took it up as a future business after researching about it on the net.
“Pakistan is facing a huge gap between meat supply and demand and I believe this gap could be filled by this special bird. Ostriches have multiple benefits and are being farmed successfully in many countries,” he says while justifying his choice.
Although a new farming that currently has no government support, a number of people have taken the risk and are raising ostriches on a commercial scale in Pakistan. Most of these people are those who have suffered losses either in agriculture or in livestock business and are now looking for some venture.
Not everybody, however, is lucky like Zeeshan and Rasheed and there are many who are hugely disappointed.
“I had bought 50 birds and now am left with only 16. All of them died due to some disease as I was helpless. There was no veterinary support available. I want to sell my animals but there is no buyer,” said Irfan Mehar, a resident of Mirpurkhas, who has invested Rs2.5 million in the business.
Similar experiences were shared by Salman Chatta of Gujranwala and Tahir Mehmood of Jhelum, who have invested huge amounts of money in setting up ostrich farms but are continually suffering losses.
The farmers complained of lack of support from the government as well as the company that provided them with the birds. The Punjab government, they said, had declared ostrich a livestock but no veterinary assistance was available to ostrich farmers as was provided to those in the livestock business.
All these farmers had purchased their birds from the Pakistan Ostrich Company, probably the only ogranisation in the country involved in the sale of ostrich chicks. When contacted, Raja Tahir Latif, head of the company, said that since ostrich farming was a new business in the country people were likely to suffer some losses.
“Gradually, they will be trained in handling the birds. But this requires patience. That’s the reason we advise people to start with only 12 birds,” he said, adding that the organisation also provided technical support but couldn’t attend to emergencies.
The bird, he said, was different from other birds and farmers generally didn’t follow the guidelines provided to them. Farmers, he said, were asked to take special care in animal feed as most of the diseases contracted by the bird were related to its feed and stomach. But that was not done in most cases.
The company, he said, had sold about 6,000 ostrich chicks in Punjab during the last three years. Apart from other reasons, the poor law and order situation had also hampered the growth of ostrich farming in Karachi, he said.
Ostrich farming, he said, desperately required government support. “Pakistan has ideal conditions for ostrich farming but a single company can’t meet the requirements of all farmers. The farming needs government patronage through proper legislation, its implementation, easier import procedures and removal of duties on birds,” he said.
Zubair Motiwala, who is heading the Sindh Board of Investment, said: “The government is willing to support ostrich farming in whatever way possible, including legislation and relaxation of duties. Last year, we provided free space to ostrich farmers at the livestock exhibition.”
He agreed to the idea that government experts should visit countries where the farming was being carried out successfully and make efforts to make it an industry here.
According to information available on the net, ostriches are very beefy birds with high commercial value. Every part of ostrich production is profitable —the meat, eggs, chicks, oils, plumes and hides. The white feathers of the male, which are large and soft, are the ostrich plumes of commercial value. Ostrich meat is low in fat and cholesterol.
The world is now switching to ostrich and emu as they are being considered the livestock of the future. This is partly because the birds are far more prolific and easier to raise than other livestock, particularly cattle. Ostrich skin is the world’s finest leather and therefore most expensive. Ostrich and emu oils are used in the cosmetic industry and for medicinal purposes.